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We are living in a weird, unprecedented time that is causing high levels of stress for most everyone.
This guide, The ABC’s of Managing Stress, is a quick reminder of ways to feel more empowered and hopeful during this time.
Stress is a continuum. Too little stress and we are bored with nothing to challenge us. At the other end is too much stress, a reality that many are facing currently.
It is well known that the mind and body are connected. Our thought and beliefs effect our behavior, our immune system, our outlook.
This guide is focused on YOU. Remember the safety talk you get before every flight (when flying was a thing?): should the need for oxygen occur, please secure your own mask first, then put the mask on any small children traveling with you. Yea, you first need to make sure you are managing your own stress. Kids often take cues from us when we don’t realize it. Even if you don’t have children, your stress level can impact your other relationships.
Some of these suggestions are things you may already know, but the brain tends to forget when under stress. So we need these reminders!
A uniquely human choice
Unlike animals, humans have a unique ability to CHOOSE a response. Sure, we sometimes blow it and “fly off the handle”, but realizing that we have a choice in our response is empowering. Reactions are usually not great, i.e., a reaction to a medication is NOT desirable. Reacting to a situation, without the facts, is also not desirable. Responding requires a bit of thought, a moment to breathe before we answer.
We are living in exceptional times, when much feels out of our control. But the one thing we CAN choose is our response.
Oftentimes when we are under stress, the tendency is to shut down, eat a whole bag of cookies, and watch Netflix endlessly. Not helpful! Action fuels energy. Even small actions can help us feel less overwhelmed.
- Move your body–go for a walk, practice yoga, follow an exercise class on youtube or other online sources. Research shows the benefits of exercise in lowering bp, decreasing anxiety, and releasing endorphins (the feel-good hormones). Fresh air and sunshine, when possible, is a bonus.
- What can you do to check in on neighbors who may be isolated? Turns out, doing something for someone else gets us out of our own head, at least for a time. Pick up groceries, walk their dog, pick up mail. People that were isolated before the pandemic will fell it even more profoundly.
- Write letters or cards to local nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Send to their main office for disinfection, then they will distribute.
- Do you know anyone on the front lines…doctors, nurses, caregivers, janitors? Make a pot of soup to drop off on their front porch or purchase gift cards from restaurants that may be open for take out.
- Gather unopened soaps and shampoos that you have brought home from hotels and donate to a local homeless shelter.
- Do you sew? Some people are actually sewing masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.
- Donate to businesses/non-profits that continue to operate as essential businesses (soup kitchens, community cafes, homeless shelters, food banks)
- With 24/7 news on, it’s tempting to sit glued to the TV all day. While it’s important to be informed, watching the news non-stop tends to add to a sense of anxiety and worry.
- Ask yourself, “Do I feel better or more hopeful after watching 3 hours of the news?” Paying attention to what DRAINS you, vs. what ENERGIZES you is important.
- Give yourself a reasonable time limit, and ask someone to hold you accountable if you need to.
- Some people want to talk on and on about bad news. Sure, some of us are verbal processors, but again, it’s OK to set boundaries. They don’t have to know…it’s Thursday and you have to sanitize your groceries, so gotta run!
- Social media–much like the news, this can be another dark hole. Yes, it’s important to keep up with people, but some people want to focus on all the bad news. You can hop off that crazy train, and unfollow or block people.
- Pick up the phone or Facetime with someone for a REAL connection.
- This is our sanctuary, but for many, it has become grand central station, as kids are home from school, and you and/or your spouse or roommate are now working from home. It’s important to create some boundaries around work time and space. Discuss schedules, chores, quiet times to help address expectations. This is new to everyone, so be patient in these transitions.
- Talk about gratitude–a gratitude journal (simple notebook or embellish to your heart’s desire!) that is pulled out every night at dinner. Everyone contributes something they are grateful for. It’s hard to grumble and be grateful at the same time.
If your well is empty, you are no good to anyone else.
- Create rhythms/routines. Our normal routines have been disrupted, so it’s important to find ways to ground your day. Create rhythms that give your day structure and predictability, especially if you have kids. They may think it’s fun to be out, but they are likely internalizing the stress of what’s going on. They look to you and will take your lead.
- Do you have a spiritual practice? Motivational books, religious texts, prayer, meditation all signal the brain with positive, hopeful focus.
- What’s going into your mind? We tend to find what we’re looking for, i.e. watching bad news for hours reinforces the belief that it’s hopeless.
- Yoga is especially helpful for calming the mind. If you’ve never tried it, you can find classes on youtube.
- Journal your thoughts, concerns, beliefs, and pay attention to what you’re telling yourself. What is the worst that could happen? Can you process that? You’re still alive? OK, you’ve imagined the worst, now what is the best that could happen? Which is more likely? What do you CHOOSE to focus on as a result of which is most likely? What is in your control, what is not?
- Reach out to a friend or family member by phone or facetime. Don’t wait for someone else to call if you’re feeling lonely. Chances are, they’re feeling lonely, too.
- Sleep–rest is so important for keeping our immune system healthy.
- Eat wholesome food. Sure, allow yourself some treats, but focus on whole foods that nourish. There are all kinds of cooking classes being offered for free online. Maybe this could be a time to expand your cooking skills, or cook with your child or spouse.
- Many of the ways we have connected are now online–not the same, but churches, musicians, even distance learning is all online now.
- Above all, ask for help if you need it. Sometimes, we are too overwhelmed ot even process options. So ask someone–a friend, minister, priest, rabbi, counselor. If you don’t know anyone to talk to, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will help you get started.